For a second time in roughly 10 months, members of the Stark County Democratic Central Committee have appointed George T. Maier as the county's sheriff.
Once again, nearly 200 Stark County Democrats met to appoint a new county sheriff.
Once again, they debated whether George T. Maier met the legal requirements for the $94,691-a-year job.
And once again, the Stark County Democratic Central Committee chose Maier as the county's next sheriff.
Only this time, the vote wasn't as close.
Maier, former safety-service director for Massillon, topped Sheriff Lt. Louis Darrow by a 101-65 vote. Hartville Police Chief Lawrence Dordea and Summit County Sheriff Lt. Douglas Smith did not receive a vote. One member abstained from the vote, which was taken by paper ballot that members were required to sign.
In February, Maier had won by an eight-vote margin.
"I'm truly blessed," said Maier after the vote Wednesday. "... I'm ready to go to work right now."
VIDEO: Maier returns as county sheriff
Maier expects to be back in the sheriff's office this morning, and that the paperwork he needs to officially take over as sheriff will be filed by Friday.
As the committee's appointee, Maier fills the position vacated by Michael McDonald, who was elected sheriff but resigned in January due to a terminal illness, until next year's general election when voters will choose the candidate who should serve the remaining two years of McDonald's term. Maier already has formed a campaign committee and intends to be on next year's ballot.
But various pending and threatened legal actions could cut Maier's term short.
Acting Sheriff Timothy Swanson, who backed Darrow for the appointment, once again could challenge whether Maier meets the legal qualifications required under state law to serve as sheriff.
It was Swanson's challenge that led to Maier's ouster Nov. 6, and to Wednesday's revote by the Democratic committee. The Ohio Supreme Court had sided with Swanson that Maier's duties as the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety did not satisfy the statutory requirement that a sheriff must serve as a full-time peace officer within the past four years.
Swanson said Wednesday that he first needs to discuss his options with his attorney. He also is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court on his request for the court to compel the Democratic committee to consider only Darrow and Dordea as candidates for the sheriff appointment because they were the only two qualified applicants during the initial meeting in February. The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it would not stop the Democrats from meeting Wednesday, but it did not weigh in on the merits of the request.
Shortly after the vote was announced, Swanson greeted Maier with a handshake and told him that he didn't want to be enemies.
"It's not about him and I, it's about the qualifications," said Swanson, who plans to immediately resume his retirement in Florida.
During the meeting, an emotional Swanson told the 167 committee members and the nearly 100 noncommittee members gathered at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that he would support Maier — once he's qualified.
"The best thing for George to do is ... get qualified," Swanson said, "... and we'll be behind you. I'll be your campaign manager."
But Swanson, a longtime member and past president of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, said Maier has to follow the rules.
"I toed the line on every aspect (of the job qualification)," Swanson said. "That's all I'm asking George to do. Toe the line. ... You can be the next sheriff. But right now you don't meet the qualifications."
Maier, who has received the backing of the state sheriffs' association, believes he has fulfilled the law enforcement qualification that the Supreme Court said he lacked by working as a full-time deputy at the Harrison County Sheriff's Office between Nov. 8 and last Thursday. He also believes his duties as assistant director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety satisfy the law's requirement that a sheriff serve as a supervisor at a rank of sergeant or above for at least two years.
While the outcome of the vote clearly favored Maier, the debate among committee members leading up to the vote was divided with supporters of Swanson and Darrow sitting on one side of the room and supporters of Maier sitting behind Stark Democratic Party Chairman Randy Gonzalez.
Several committee members from Swanson and Darrow's side questioned the validity of the Democratic Party attorneys' opinion that Maier met all the legal requirements to be sheriff, emphasizing that they had been wrong in February when they said Maier was qualified then. Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero, who backed Darrow and said he was speaking as a committee member, said he and his assistant prosecutors believe the Supreme Court's ruling disqualifies Maier from the vote.
Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Fred Scott, who is a committee member, later added, "It's beyond my comprehension why we would put him back in again."
Darrow, a 26-year veteran of the office, expects to continue the good working relationship he has with Maier.
"My loyalty is to the office and who is in there," said Darrow, who did not rule out a campaign for sheriff in next year's primary election.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @kyoungREP